We all enjoy having fun on the water. However, safety should always be the priority. Driving your boat down a busy waterway with many different vessels can be intimidating. How can everyone know where to go and what to do to keep each other from getting in their way? Some rules can be implemented to reduce collisions and maintain safety and order. It is important to remember that, regardless of the circumstances, it is your responsibility to avoid collisions.

A good captain should know how to interact with other boats, just as it is important to understand traffic rules when driving a vehicle. You can cruise through even the most crowded waterways if you know the basic boating rules for rivers and oceans. Let’s get started.

Understanding Boating Rights of Way Rules is Important

In 2017, the United States Coast Guard recorded almost 4,300 recreational vessel accidents. Most recreational boaters don’t know the boating rules, which can lead to confusion and make their boating experience more difficult and unsafe. You’ll be able to manage any situation and maintain your cool if you know the basics of boat-passing rules.

It is your responsibility as the captain to ensure your boat’s and all passengers’ safety. You can reduce the risk of something going wrong by being more informed about this, such as understanding and obeying boating right-of way-rules and collision regulations.

First, here are a few tips to ensure safety in navigation:

  • Don’t speed. Slowing down can improve safety for your vessel and others nearby. Sometimes it’s okay to go fast. Other times, they don’t. A good skipper will know the difference. Consider how many boats are nearby and whether you have enough space to slow down.
  • Be aware of other boaters. When driving a car, the rules don’t apply to everyone. Recreational boaters often flout the rules. Keep enough distance from them if they seem to be acting unsafely so you don’t get caught off guard by any unplanned maneuver.
  • Be respectful and conscientious. Even though you might be operating within legal guidelines, it is still important to show respect to other boaters and give them the space and space they need. You don’t have to use the right of way whenever you get it.
  • – Do not allow government vessels or restricted areas to pass. They almost always have the right-of-way, so giving them lots of space is best.
  • – If you are in a dangerous situation, you must change your course. You might be partially responsible for an accident if your course was not changed. Safety is always the priority.

Rules for

How two boat approach, one another determines who has the right to go. Most rules for the water are based on position, direction, and different priority levels for different vessels. We will get into the different levels of priority for vessels later.

A vessel with the right-of-way is called a “stand-on” or “burden” vessel. If you are the stand-on vessel, you must confirm the actions taken by the give-way vessel. You need to maintain your course and speed until they pass you, or you need to change your course.

The vessel that is not allowed to have the right of way (or “give-way”) is called the “stand-off” or the “give-way”.

What does it mean for another vessel to have the right of way? You need to ensure that they can maintain their current course and speed. This could mean significantly altering your course to make it clear to the stand-on vessel.

These are the most common situations you might encounter while on the water.


They have the right to pass you if you approach a vessel that doesn’t have motor power, like a sailboat.

Important note: A sailboat must be “under sail” to have the right of way over power-driven boats. They have the same rights as normal powerboats if they use their small outboard motor.

Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in human-powered craft, such as kayaks and paddleboards. The Navigation Rules define human-powered craft as “vessels underneath oars,” They are only mentioned in the lighting rules. They are not considered “vessels” unless used in maritime situations. They may be encountered in situations of overtaking. The overtaken vessel is considered the most valuable on the high seas. When overtaking a human-powered craft, give it a wide turn and be mindful of your surroundings. We may also encounter paddlers in head-on or crossing situations.

The rules do not specify specific provisions for power-driven boats encountering vessels under sails in head-on or crossing situations. Rule 2 is the “responsibility rule” and tells us to exercise good judgement based on all aspects of the maritime picture. The standard port-to-port passing rule should be used in head-on situations. Crossing situations are no excuse not to apply the rules for power-driven vessels. The vessel with the other side to her port shall yield. Rule 8 states that we must take every precaution to avoid collisions. Vessels with oars are relatively slow and easy to avoid. If you encounter them, taking positive and prompt action is important to keep your distance. The rules say that we should slow down in times of uncertainty.


If two boats have the same priority right of way based on their classification, the determining factors are position and direction.

You must be familiar with the “sectors” of the vessel you are trying to locate relative to yours. These include starboard, port, and stern. You will know who has the right to go once you have identified where another boat is relative.

These simple rules will help you to be a good friend around powerboats.

1. You can approach another vessel from your boat’s port or left side.

2. If a vessel is trying to cross your path and is on your starboard (or right), they have the right of way. You can alter your course to pass them safely and in a manner obvious to the other skipper.

3. You don’t have the right to pass any vessel approaching your boat from the stern. Keep your speed and course. The boat in front should always have the right-of-way and be allowed unassisted to continue its original course. Even if the vessel to the rear has a higher right-of-way priority, such as a sailboat, this is still the case.

There’s an easy way for boaters to know who has the right to go when the sun sets.

  • If you see a red light at the end of a boat’s navigation, it indicates that they are on their port side and have the right to proceed. Red means stop.
  • You approach a vessel from its port side if you see a green navigational signal. Green indicates that you have the right to go.
  • How can you tell if another vessel is overtaking you at night? You should look for the stern white lights of other vessels and avoid them. The stern light is located at 22.5° to either side of your boat below the beam.

These basics will put you in a great position in all boating situations. These are the top tips that will improve your navigation skills.

  • When passing through a busy harbor: One of the best strategies for this situation is to aim for the stern of a boat you follow. This lets the boat operator know you will follow them and allows them to continue their journey. Sometimes, captains use a VHF radio to signal their intent to “take the stern” of another boat. This is done to maintain traffic flow and courtesy.
  • When you approach another boat head-on, According to the boating rules, vessels that approach each other head-on must pass each other from port to port, or left to right, just as they do on the road. This can be difficult in crowded harbors or when many boats are at once. Follow the rules but exercise your best judgment to ensure everyone is safe.
  • When you need to communicate with another vessel or if you hear the horn of another vessel, Skipping experts will often use their horns. You may use your horn to signal that you are moving past another boat or to pass another vessel. Two short blasts are a signal that the maneuver is safe. If they respond with five short blasts, passing the vessel is unsafe. This signal is for imminent danger. Keep in mind international rules may differ.
  • You must change your course quickly to avoid collisions with other vessels. A “collision course” refers to a situation in which the bearing between your boat and another boat isn’t changing, but the distance between them is shrinking.

There is no way to go between different types of vessels.

We’ll cover some special situations that may arise now that you understand the road rules. There is a hierarchy of power boat rules and non-power boat rules. Different vessels and conditions decide who is the stand-on vessel.

Here is the U.S. Coast Guard list. From the highest to the lowest level of rights of way, the Coast Guard list is here:


The Coast Guard gives these two types of vessels the same priority. Unexpected circumstances are what prevent a boat from maneuvering.

A vessel that is restricted in its maneuverability cannot move out of the way of other boats because of the nature of its work. For example, a buoy tender attaching a navigational aid to the vessel or a vessel transporting passengers while it is underway.


Boats approaching vessels from the astern must yield their right-of-way.


Commercial fishing equipment can restrict a boat’s ability to move. They have the right to use their space.


A vessel that is under sail and any other watercraft, such as kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and others, may be called a vessel under sail. — can have the right to pass powered vessels.


You must obey all other categories as a power-driven vessel. The right-of-way rules previously mentioned apply if you are converging with another powered boat, either head-on or astern.

The Coast Guard does not include these unique situations in their simplified list.

  • If you hear a siren or see the blue flashing lights of an emergency or law enforcement vessel, give them the right-of-way just as you would for an ambulance or a vehicle with police.
  • Watch out for tugboats or other vessels towing. If they are in open water, they may have a submerged line with a lot of distance between themselves and their tow.
  • Never cross the ocean in front of large container ships or commercial tankers. Always keep your stern in line with them. Although they may not appear to be moving, they can run at more than 20 knots.
  • Avoid docked and moving ferries. Some have submerged cable lines. Before crossing, observe other boats to see how they maneuver around the ferry.
  • – Boats under 65 feet are required to avoid larger, less maneuverable vessels.

When operating your boat, keeping an eye on everything is important. You may be able to manage everything on your own if you have a small boat. A friend will be helpful if you have a bigger boat. This is especially important when you are leaving the dock or landing. No matter how experienced a captain is, having an extra pair of eyes can be very helpful.

These tips will help you avoid a boat accident. You can help yourself if someone isn’t following these rules bumps into you.

A copy of the USCG Navigation Rules can be found in most boating supplies stores. You can also order it online. A copy of the USCG Navigation Rules is a good idea. It’s required for all vessels over 39 feet. Before you leave for your destination, make sure to check the maritime rules in your state. They may differ depending on where you are located.

Formula Boats for Safety and Performance

Formula Boats takes safety very seriously. We have been in business since 1976 and understand the importance of protecting your assets. The Porter family is a lifelong boater and operates every product as a reflection of them. We do our best to provide the best boats and the knowledge to ensure that they are safe.

Because you are part of the Formula family, our customers continue to return. You might be wrong to think you can’t have everything in one boat. We don’t build boats for the masses. We build boats for you. We have more than 60 years of experience in precision watercraft manufacturing. Our products exceed expectations in terms of performance and quality.

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